I moved to the UAE a few years ago and coming from a very religious country; Pakistan and a very liberal country; USA, I have experienced Ramadan or rather how we call it, Ramzan, across the board. In Pakistan, it is expected of most to fast. Life goes on because no one expects any special treatment because the entire country is in the same boat. Work hours are supposed to be relaxed but no one really abides by that because everyone is fasting. It would be considered a bit victim-like if you get up and claim that you’re either belly-achingly hungry or trudge-through-the-desert thirsty. So you stick it out and then go home and gorge on all the fried iftar offerings.
Then there is Ramzan in USA. Coming from a state where people weren’t too familiar with the concept, I was always a bit hesitant to proclaim that the holy month was upon us and it was time for me to fast. You can just imagine the image it would cast upon me. But then I got lucky. In my first ever job, people were very tolerant and even supportive during the few days that I did choose to fast. My desk was moved from right next to the kitchen to a corner far away, people were instructed to not eat when I was around and I was allowed to step out a bit before the rest. I can’t tell you how appreciative I was of this kind of understanding and the wonderful people that went out of their way to make my days a bit easier.
But then I moved here and a new world opened. Here, Ramzan was celebrated. Not just a fact of life or an anomaly. But a celebration. Malls and restaurants stay open till the wee hours of the morning, or sunrise to be precise. People are instructed to go home at a decent time and those who are not fasting are requested to not eat in front of those who are. It is a month where the lights go up, people meet from 7 onwards till late at night, and it is a festive month all around. It is truly a sight to see because instead of making it the run-of-the-mill month of suffering, it has been converted into a month where people can enjoy some me/family time and explore their spiritual side, if they chose to. The key words being that it is purely at your discretion.